The monument has been shuttered since August following three separate closures, including one after a cable broke loose from the bottom of its elevator. Efforts to evaluate necessary repairs occurred at the end of the summer and initially estimated a nine-month time frame to overhaul the elevator. That projection was revised today to include additional work, pushing back the reopening of the monument until 2019.
“We’ve added a second component of the project which is [the screening facility,]” said National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst. “That was already on the agenda, but rather than one after the other, we’re hoping to do it concurrently.”
Completed in 1888, the 555-foot-tall obelisk has undergone a series of repairs in recent decades. A major restoration shrouded the structure in scaffolding from 1998 to 2001 as it underwent a cleaning and added new exhibits. Then, following an earthquake in August 2011, almost two years of work went into repairing cracks and broken stone in the monument.
Renovations to the elevator are expected to cost $2-3 million and will be funded with a donation from businessman David Rubenstein, who is noted for his philanthropy pertaining to historic American landmarks. Since 2012, Rubenstein has pledged almost $50 million to various National Park Service projects, including the earthquake-induced repairs to the Washington Monument and an ongoing restoration of the Lincoln Memorial.
“The monument has become a symbol of our country, and reminds everyone of the towering strengths of our first president. I am honored to help make this symbol safely accessible again to all Americans as soon as practicable,” said Rubenstein in a statement provided by the National Park Service.
Construction on the Washington Monument’s elevator will feature a replacement of the computerized control system and the addition of a “diagnostic system” which will make it easier for NPS employees to recognize and rectify future issues, should they occur. Other upgrades include new doors, ropes, cables and rollers and the installation of landings in the elevator shaft.
A temporary security screening area has existed at the monument since 2001. Funds for the new facility, which are not covered by Rubenstein’s donation, were requested by the National Park Service in its President’s Budget Request for the 2017 fiscal year.
Washington, D.C., Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who previously criticized the National Park Service over repeated closures of the monument, thanked Rubenstein for his donation and expressed hope that the project would ensure easier access for visitors.
“The much-needed modernization of the monument’s elevator will resolve the chronic problems that have forced repeated shutdowns of the monument, many of which occurred during peak tourist season,” reads a statement from Norton.
However, the continued closure of the monument ensures that it will not be able to receive guests during the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump on Jan. 20. Past inaugurations have drawn over 1 million visitors to Washington, D.C.